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HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Sixteen - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
HG: The Narrow Path, Chapter Sixteen
I streamlined a little bit of Chapter Fourteen at AO3, just adding a little around the story Ruth tells to tie it to the questions Peeta originally wanted to ask.

Anyway, here in Chapter Sixteen, Johanna has been shoved into long term psychiatric care, and Haymitch has just discovered that Peeta was transferred from constant psychiatric observance to the front lines of the war.


Chapter Sixteen
I steer Delly into the observation room. "What happened? When did this happen?"

"I came down before school and they were packing him up," she says. "Just... straight from the hospital. He didn't have a test or anything. They told him last night. He didn't believe them." She flips through the notebook, hands shaking, and finds a page that had been only minimally decorated.

Over the doodles -- incorporating many of them into background elements -- Peeta has drawn a picture of the two of us in the Capitol, on the training center roof. The day we talked about whether or not they'd make them go through with the wedding. Delly rips it out and hands it to me. "He said to give that to you and tell you that he's going to try to follow your advice -- he didn't say what advice -- "

"He didn't need to," I say. "The only advice I ever really gave him was to stay alive."

Delly sinks into a chair and starts crying. "He said he was going to try and follow your advice -- unless it turned out it was better not to."

Feeling numb and entirely wrong-footed, I sit down beside her and try to comfort her. I am not good at it, and when a truant officer finds her a few minutes later and sends her off to school, I think she may be better off.

Plutarch joins me after a while. "Sorry, Haymitch," he says. "After you left yesterday, the president decided that she wanted the propos heated up a little bit. She always wanted Peeta in them."

"They're giving him a weapon and sending him to Katniss. That's the propo Snow is after. Breaking Peeta morally and killing Katniss, and destroying the narrative. That story is the most dangerous things anyone ever came up with in the arena. A hundred of Beetee's traps never did as much damage to Snow." I stand up. "I'm going back to my place."

"You're scheduled in Command."

"I'm sick. I'm going back to my place."

He doesn't follow, and no one comes to get me. I put Peeta's drawing on the wall beside the picture of Effie.

Stare at it for a long time.

I pull out Effie's pictures and go through them slowly. I remember scooping them up off of her floor, realizing that she'd been dragged off, unable to do anything about it. I think about her cat, staring at me from under the television. As far as I know, the cat was locked in the apartment to starve to death. I doubt anyone would bother rescuing it. I don't know its name.

I go to sleep. In my dreams, Peeta arrives in the Capitol, pulls out his gun, and shoots Katniss in the face. Then all of his brainwashing is lifted, and he realizes what he's done, and turns the gun on himself. I keep yelling at him to stay alive, but he says, "It's better not to," and pulls the trigger.

Then I am drunk and lying in filth in my house in the Village. I am glad of this. This is where I belong. I hear a knock at the door, and then, "HAY-mitch! Oh, no, this won't do, we can't FILM in here! It's a disASter!" Effie rolls me over and gets me to the couch, where she starts to clean me up, wiping away the blood and tutting about how I'm never prepared, and how she has to go back to her apartment to get a few things to make me presentable. I grab her and hold onto her and kiss her and tell her not to go anywhere, that I need her with me here, that I'm always late without her.

She dissolves in my arms, and I am left alone.

A beeping sound wakes me just after lunchtime, and I sit up groggily. A light is flashing on an intercom. "Soldier Abernathy," a pleasant female voice says, "you are needed in Command."

"I'm not feeling well."

Another voice comes on. "It's Beetee, Haymitch. Why don't you come down and help Annie and me in Special Weaponry for a little while?"

I frown. "Annie's there?"

"I wanted some company," she says in the background.

And of course, that's it -- she wanted to be with another victor. Johanna is out of commission and I've been hiding, so she went to Beetee.

I straighten myself up and go down to Special Weaponry. Annie and Beetee are in the hummingbird room. Annie's gotten one of them to sit in her hand, though it flies off when I open the door to come in.

"It's so light," she says, watching it flit off to hover beside a honeysuckle blossom. "Wouldn't it be nice to be so light, and just fly away?"

"Maybe, until the first strong wind came along," I say. "What are we doing?"

"I'm playing with the birds," Annie says.

Beetee smiles at her. "I'm making notes on some theorizing Gale and I did. It seems that people had access to it and they didn't realize it was just... just..." He shakes his head. "Sometimes you just talk about things. You don't work them through to the end. So I thought maybe I'd best work them through. Explain why they can't be done."

"What do you mean?"

"He sent Peeta," Annie says, holding out her hand for another bird.

Beetee sighs. "Not deliberately."

"What do you mean, you sent him?"

He wheels back a little in his chair and says, "I'm armed, Haymitch. Just something to be aware of."

"What do you mean, you sent him?"

"I was angry when he tried to kill Katniss. I just... vented about it. Said we ought to send him to the front lines and film him there, and if..." I can't think of anything to say. Beetee jabs something at the computer. "Gale told me how badly he'd been damaged, of course, and when I really understood it, I stopped being angry at him, and went back to Snow. But I'd been recording everything. I think someone in Command must be reading the notes. They've inserted things in a few places. I didn't notice. I haven't been going back and looking at things until today."

I am furious at him for even having a thought like that, but I seriously doubt it had anything to do with Coin's decision. This isn't about her vendetta against Snow. It's her vendetta against Katniss. I force myself not to yell, or to walk out. "So now what? You're getting rid of other catty comments? Maybe you wanted to drown me in some white liquor?"

"No. I wish it was something like that." He looks at his screen. "I though these were my private notes. Things I was going to go over before I introduced them to anyone. Most of them, I never would have. There are things in here. Things that are worse that what they did with Peeta. Things worse than what I did in the arena. Just payback things. Once you start getting angry, it's hard to think of enough payback."

With a twist of knob, he sends images up onto screens among the birds. The Capitol in flames. People trapped and bombed. I start to see victors' strategies. A scheme to use the Capitol's power grid to send a lightning stroke through every street in the city, strong enough to kill any man, woman, or child out walking -- that would be Beetee himself. An innocuously designed nuclear bomb in a crowded place, with its ignition hidden and delayed -- Johanna. A killing forcefield set up at city limits, with an explosion to chase the people into it -- me. Breaking the mutts out of their accommodations at the Mutt Zoo... I'm guessing that was inspired by Enobaria's savage victory. Other things could only have come from Gale, hunting and trapping tricks. Injure some to draw a crowd of rescuers, then kill everyone left. Starve them, then tempt them into a dangerous area by offering the only food. All that's missing is a giant bag to haul in the game.

Nothing looks like Katniss and Peeta's victory, their sacrificial dare to the Gamemakers, the only victory that has ever really changed anything.

"I thought these were private," Beetee says again. "My own little private revenge fantasies. But they've been in my notes. Now I have to show why these won't work, before they try anything else."

I stare at these death traps that came out of the minds of my friends. I hate Snow with a bright, white hate for bringing these thoughts to people as generally decent as Beetee and Gale. And I hate Coin, much more coldly, for apparently thinking of at least one of them as a perfectly reasonable strategy.

"This one can't work," Annie says, pointing at the innocuous looking bomb, "because we're at war, and they're not stupid enough to think that something that just appears isn't a plant from the enemies."

"A bomb could be built into an existing structure," Beetee says. "Use the spies. Get them to wire some whole building with explosives. Something no one would suspect or guard -- one of the fashion houses, maybe, or a movie studio. Of course, they could only use conventional explosives."

"Yeah, they don't want to poison the whole place and risk fallout drifting to the Districts."

"No, it's that they literally can't." Beetee looks up, surprised. "You didn't figure it out?"

"Figure what out?"

"The nukes are almost a century old, and no one here really knew how to take care of them for most of that time. Nukes need constant maintenance, or the components start to get wonky. That 'plague' they had... I've been looking at it. The symptoms were the same as radiation sickness. I think they must have tried a test detonation somewhere underground, and it went wrong and the radiation got into some of the living quarters. There are huge areas of the compound that are sealed off."

"Then District Thirteen doesn't have a nuclear deterrent anymore," I say, and the rest comes in clean, neat, poisonous little package. "That's why they decided to re-introduce themselves to the other districts. Their protection is gone. It's take down the Capitol now or be run over and deal with Snow's revenge."

Beetee looks alarmed. "I hadn't thought that far out."

"That's because you don't read politics," I say. Of course, there is someone who does read politics -- Plutarch. And if he hasn't already reached this conclusion -- maybe he reached it before he ever approached Thirteen in the first place -- then I would be extremely surprised.

The three of us spend the afternoon deconstructing Beetee's traps. The problem is, in theory, they all work. Annie finds weaknesses; Beetee explains why they can be overcome. I propose the novel solution of flat out lying, but of course, a decent strategist would just take a weakness as a challenge.

"Why not just say they're wrong??" Annie asks. She points to a net-like trap, obviously inspired by Finnick, and says, "We're not fishing. We're not trying to catch animals because we need to eat. We're talking about people. Doesn't that make it wrong?"

"I don’t think 'wrong' is going to carry a lot of weight around here," I say.

We get back to work. I doubt it will do any good, but at least it's something productive to do.

We go up for dinner together, and Plutarch tells me that Peeta has arrived safely in the Capitol, a fact he knows because Boggs called and entirely lost his temper at the Command staff. "Apparently, he took Peeta's gun and tried to refuse him entry, but Coin overrode him personally."

"Of course she did."

Plutarch looks around carefully, then says, in a low voice, "Katniss has tried to get calls through to you. They haven't been routed. You really need to come to Command tonight."

I eat quickly and head up to the conference room. Coin and her upper level staff do not look pleased to see me, but I show them my schedule. Wall-Effie has me here until ten o'clock.

The telephone rings. A technician picks up the mobile unit. "Yes, Soldier Everdeen... at the moment, Soldier Abernathy is--"

I grab it, rather rudely, and say, "I’m right here, Sweetheart. You okay?"

"Peeta's here," she says.

"I know. I didn't know he was coming until he was gone."

"Why did they send him? Haymitch, I can't take this!"

I grind my teeth. "Katniss, I know it's hard, I've been seeing him all the time. What they did -- "

"I don't know who he is. They think I can't shoot him if I'm standing guard. I could shoot him. He's not Peeta anymore. He's just one of Snow's mutts now. I told him I could shoot him now--"

The implications of this settle in. I take the mobile into a little alcove, pull the curtain, and drop my voice. I hope they haven't got this thing bugged. "What are you trying to do?" I ask. "Provoke him into another attack?"

"Of course not. I just him to leave me alone!"

I try to explain to her that he can't do that, that with everything Snow did to him, she's still the complete focus of his life. And he has no idea that he's been sent there to kill her -- that I'm sure of. If he had the slightest inkling of that, he'd have found a way to send a message. I don't know whether he's fully accepted that she's not a mutt yet, but I think he doesn't want to be responsible for killing her. I tell Katniss that she can't blame him for what the Capitol did.

"I don't!"

"You do," I tell her. It may not be entirely true -- she doesn't blame him for trying to kill her, and her wounded routine seems to come more from his occasional brattiness than his actual assaults -- but she doesn't draw a distinction. For her, there was Peeta, and now there's not-Peeta. "You're punishing him over and over for things that are out of his control. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn't have a fully loaded weapon next to you round the clock," I say, hoping she has this firmly in mind, "but I think it's time you flipped this little scene around in your head. If you'd been taken by the Capitol, and hijacked, and then tried to kill Peeta, is this the way he would be treating you?" She goes completely silent, and I realize that my little what-if scenario has hit her in a deeper place than any lecture. Real Peeta, to Katniss, is the example of what a person should be. And she's been acting as much like not-Peeta as he has. "You and me," I say, "we had a deal to try and save him. Remember? Try and remember." The line goes dead and the curtain over the alcove snaps open.

"What did you say to her?" Coin asks, glaring at me.

"I told her to be careful," I say. "And to be a little more gentle with Peeta. It was a private conversation.'

"It was a conversation using military channels, during which you advised a soldier in a key position. Command has to be aware of your words."

My mouth runs about a second ahead of my brain: "I told her that he has no idea that you sent him there to kill her."

She straightens her shoulders. "You are dismissed, Soldier Abernathy. You have no further responsibilities to the Mockingjay."

"I have responsibilities to Katniss Everdeen," I say.

She nods to her guards, who escort me out of Command. Back at the apartment, Dalton shrugs it off. "She needs you there. No one else can really get through to Katniss Everdeen."

"She's trying to kill Katniss."

He shakes his head. "I'm sure you're wrong about that. She's power hungry and a little crazy, but she's not one for murdering teenage girls."

The next morning, I am assigned to the farm again, and I spend the day hand plowing and pulling rocks out of the soil. My hands and fingers are bleeding at the end of it, and when I go to visit Johanna, she doesn't bother pretending not to notice. "Didn't hold your tongue, did you?" she asks.

I shake my head.

"Be careful, or you'll end up in here with me." She looks around. "Prim's been down to switch out my meds for saline a few times. They think I'm asleep. The guards sometimes go in the back room. I have a look around." She jerks her chin toward the bed across from her. "That guy's supposed to be suffering delusions because he said there was a nuclear accident. The one beside him is here because he thinks there are better ways to handle things, and that if they spread out from the compound, they'd have more food." She points at the girl a few beds down. "That one came in from District Eight, and said she wanted to go back, even in the middle of the war. The lady beside her came in with her, and tried to steal a truck to drive away."

"I'm surprised they aren't locked up like Katniss's preps."

"That's for criminals," Jo says. "Turns out everyone down here isn't a criminal. And once they've ruled out the idea that you're a Capitol spy, you have to just be crazy to object to the system. They try to cure us. Webb's down here every day."

"What do you tell him?"

"That I understand why they doused me, and I'm sure it was for my own good. They may let me out of here if I put on a good enough performance. After that, I’m breaking out. I'll head for the Capitol to get my licks in for the war, then I'm going back to Seven." She sniffs. "Though Webb says my house probably isn't even there anymore. Victors' Village was razed."

"I'm sorry, Jo."

"I wonder which side did it." She smiles. "Maybe I am crazy. I'm sitting here with scars all over my head from a forced haircut -- so that Peacekeepers wouldn't be bothered by the smell of my hair burning while they shocked me -- and I'm questioning whether or not I hate someone more than the Capitol. I think that might actually be a working definition of crazy."

"They sent Peeta to the front lines."

She stops talking, her mouth open, her eyes wide. "They did what?"

"You heard me."

"Peeta's way crazier than I am. Are they keeping an eye on Katniss?"

"Lots of them," I promise.

"Has she broken off to kill Snow yet?"

"Not yet."

Johanna nods. "She will. She promised to kill him. That's why she's going."

I squeeze her hand and go back upstairs. Prim and Delly are on the Promenade, ostensibly doing assignments for school, really just worrying about Katniss and Peeta. Again. When I join them, Delly is running through Prim's tests on combat medical procedures with her, but the little handheld screen with the questions has gone into dark mode.

"He's been doing much better," Delly says, taking Prim's hand and giving it a little squeeze. "He's trying very, very hard to beat this."

"I know. But he doesn't always win." She looks up. "Haymitch. Have you talked to them?"

"I talked to Katniss." I sit down. "She's not taking it well, but I think she's going to try and help him get better. She'll maybe at least stop pushing his buttons."

"I hope so," Delly says.

"What have they been saying about Katniss in school?" I ask.

Prim shrugs. "Not much. All the other kids ask about her. Little kids want me to tell them about how she used to sing to me. But the teacher just kind of glosses over it, and goes to the rescue from the Quell."

"My year, too," Delly says. "It's kind of weird."

I agree, but I'm not sure it tells me anything new -- I already knew that Coin was trying to slowly diminish Katniss's role.

I talk with them for a while about how they're feeling. Prim goes back to the hospital for another shift. Delly doesn't. "Haymitch..." she starts.

"What?"

"I'm not as good an artist as Peeta."

"Okay."

"But I do sort of know how to paint. And after Peeta went away, they switched my assignment to fabrication. I'm painting things. Camouflage on vehicles, things like that."

"I guess someone has to do that."

"Yeah. But there's a room there that that Command sometimes uses. I've only seen the inside for a few seconds, when the door opens, but I swear, there's a Capitol flag in there. Does that make any sense to you?"

"No."

"Me, either."

I walk her back to the apartment that she and her brother share. The door is open, and her brother is playing with one of the Cooley boys. Mrs. Cooley checks to make sure Delly is all right (apparently, she's late), then Leevy comes out into the hall and the two girls settle into actual homework.

When I get back to the apartment, I find that Dalton was right yesterday -- my reassignment is not permanent. Wall-Effie gives me the message that I'm to report to Command tomorrow morning, but tonight, I must go to President Coin's private office to issue an apology.

I don't have the slightest desire to do so, but I summon up an image of real Effie, trying to get me to fix things with sponsors I'd inadvertently offended. "I don't care if you want to, Haymitch," she says in my head. "It's not about you. It's about your tributes. They're counting on you to get this right."

And of course, it's still true. I'm not doing Katniss or Peeta any good breaking my back on the farm. They need me in Command, where I can at least talk to them.

I go to Coin's office.

She gives herself no indulgences. Her office is a back room with a battered metal desk in it. She is filling out forms, and tucks them into a drawer as I come in. "Soldier Abernathy," she says.

"Madam President."

"You made a serious accusation against this government yesterday."

No, lady, I think, I made a serious accusation against you yesterday. I say, "Yes, I'm sorry. I was upset at Peeta Mellark being sent to the front lines. I suppose I'd been building up a little anger all day."

"It's not to happen again. Such things tend to spread, no matter how absurd they are. I am not planning to kill Soldier Everdeen. You're aware of that, aren't you?"

I try to think of something that will put off her plans for Katniss long enough to get help. "I know," I say, then am struck with an idea. "You need her to fire the last arrow of the war. Symbolically. When she kills Snow."

Of course, Coin has nothing of the sort in mind, but she latches onto it. "Yes. Yes, of course that's what she's needed for."

"Suited up as the mockingjay one last time. One arrow, straight to his heart, and then the war is over."

"And peacetime can begin. Yes." She presses her lips together until they all but disappear. "Soldier Abernathy, further rumor mongering will result in permanent expulsion."

"From Command?"

"From District Thirteen. Winter is not a good time to be wandering in the woods."

"Yes, Ma'am."

"We will have to find a way to see to it that you remember this." She palms a button and two guards come in. "Take Mr. Abernathy to the classroom," she says.

They flank me and march me out into the hall, then down a few steps to an innocuous looking door. They open it. The room is tiny and, of course, windowless this far down. There isn't room to properly sit, and the ceiling is too low to properly stand.

I am locked in for three hours.

I say nothing when they let me out.

Report to Command in the morning, as though nothing has happened. We are watching the pointless propo shots from yesterday, with Finnick and Katniss attacking dangerous colored glass. I stay quiet as she talks about how they will now integrate Peeta, who is shooting with them today. I say nothing after lunch, while we see the first shots come in from a shoot on a booby-trapped block.

We are settling into a conversation about how Peeta should be used when the phone rings. Ten minutes after the last video sent to us came in, a landmine blew up under Commander Boggs's feet. Squad 451 has been cut off from communication.

An hour after that, they are dead.
15 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
redrikki From: redrikki Date: May 6th, 2013 01:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm with Johanna on the seriously questioning which one is more evil, 13 or the Capitol. Nice bit there with the degrading nukes and the radiation sickness. You've really done a good job expanding our limited understanding of what was actually going on in the books and foreshadowing the ending.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 6th, 2013 04:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just had been look at some of the things that might happen if a city is totally abandoned, and they talked about nuclear power plants. I decided to check on the bombs. Scary what can happen with abandoned bombs.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 6th, 2013 02:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

I Second...

The comment about the link between the nuclear weapons/radiation sickness.

I'm a bit confused, though, how Joanna would have learned about her fellow patients. Is this sort of information on their charts? Because if they're kept sedated the whole time, they wouldn't be able to talk to Joanna, would they?

I also like how you've gone about resolving the problem of Beetee's role in the parachutes, in conflict with both the levels of maturity and self-awareness we expect him to possess and the extent to which so many of us (myself included) like him on a personal level.

Haymitch really knows how to manipulate people well.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 6th, 2013 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I Second...

Johanna went around and read their charts. The people are true believers -- they think you have to be crazy to disagree, and therefore, their disagreements are listed as symptoms.

I wanted to bring it in a little, with Beetee, and giving at least some sense of responsibility also gave me a chance to foreshadow a little bit.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 6th, 2013 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I Second...

So, when the dust settles from the war, is someone going to go through all those patients and wake them up/let them out?

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 6th, 2013 06:14 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I Second...

I would hope so.
barbara_the_w From: barbara_the_w Date: May 6th, 2013 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
...Fern, I want Coin's backstory now.

GAH.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 6th, 2013 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's probably the same as any other tinpot dictator's backstory. (Oh, I feel so wronged. Oh, I will take over. I deserve power. I will claim all of it.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 6th, 2013 08:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, seconded! If you ever get the urge, a ficlet from Coin's POV would be very interesting. I'm sure you could humanize her appropriately, which would make the end result even more horrifying.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 6th, 2013 08:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. But the problem is, I'm not remotely interested in Coin! :D
shortysc22 From: shortysc22 Date: May 7th, 2013 01:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I liked the explanation for the plague wand why Thirteen seems to lack children. Loved Haymitch's perspective again and can't wait for how he will react to the news that they are dead.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2013 03:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. I was just thinking about how a "plague" might come along and have that particular sort of outcome.
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: May 7th, 2013 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Radiation causing infertility, perhaps?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 7th, 2013 04:53 am (UTC) (Link)
That was my line of reasoning.
maidenjedi From: maidenjedi Date: May 7th, 2013 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
I figured - this was something I thought of briefly when reading 'Mockingjay' the first time. It makes sense, really.
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